All is not gloom for some in the crisis

Computing and engineering jobs remain unaffected by the downturn The most sought-after professionals include radiologists and financial managers

Engineers and computer experts are the professionals with the best chance of finding work during the economic downturn.
Engineers and computer experts are the professionals with the best chance of finding work during the economic downturn.ÁLVARO GARCÍA (EL PAÍS)

The crisis has not made a dent in all career paths. Some professionals continue to be in great demand and their salaries could be described as more than reasonable. They all have the kind of training that is considered the bare minimum these days - a university degree, languages (English is a given, anything beyond that is a plus), knowledge of basic information technology ranging from Microsoft Office programs to the internet and online social networks, an international background gained through work abroad, and versatility. Availability for domestic and international travel is looked upon favorably, either for specific projects lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, or for a stay of several years.

"The kinds of workers that companies are asking for the most, those with the most options right now, are those who specialize in engineering and technical work," explains Susana Sosa, director of Adecco Professional, the recruitment consulting division of the Adecco Group. "This has been true for six or seven years, but while other areas have felt the blow of the economic crisis more deeply, we feel that these two sectors, a priori, have more of a future right now than more interdisciplinary careers like human resources or sales, which were in greatest demand some time ago."

A report by Adecco on the most sought-after professions in 2012, which include those in highest demand and those that pay the highest salaries, underscores the major influence of information technologies in job demand right now: "The difficult economic context has led companies to develop and research strategic plans, both financial and commercial, which are fueled by and based on these technologies," reads the report.

The specific impact of this trend on the market is a growing importance of professions such as SAP consultant - people who implement and develop the business applications used to run companies, especially the larger ones. Other occupations in growing demand include market managers, who are in charge of negotiations with other companies in the same sector and are key players in the tourism industry for instance; as well as sales managers, international financial directors and technical salespeople who can speak several languages.

If you work in engineering, you run fewer risks of being unemployed"

Traditional, highly qualified professions that continue to be in great demand are headed by telecom engineers, so-called quality engineers and production engineers, along with some medical specialists such as radiologists and occupational physicians, who are mostly wanted for posts abroad.

"Careers involving sales are still in great demand because companies want to sell, the more the better," explains Sosa. "But engineers have the most career options: for instance, industrial engineers, since any production or plant chief is an engineer. Many of these professionals are also wanted abroad, in countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic. They want industrial engineers but also automotive engineers, mechanical engineers. If you work in engineering, you run fewer risks of being unemployed."

Corporations, say expert recruitment consultants, continue to place great value on particular personal qualities attributed to engineers, which are prized as much as technical knowledge. "These are people who are accustomed to sacrifice, to studying, to organizing their time, who have managed to successfully complete difficult studies, some of them with good grades," adds Sosa. It is the kind of profile that the working world likes a lot, especially now that companies increasingly look at a person's character on top of their academic background and professional training. Human resources experts like to underscore this point.

These qualities are essential in another greatly demanded job: the personal assistant. In Spain, 96 percent of these de facto secretaries are women, but in English and German-speaking countries and in France, many men occupy the position. There is growing demand for such roles outside Spain, for instance in large law firms or multinational corporations, say recruitment experts. This job does not require a university degree (although there are already mid- and high-level vocational training courses specializing in it), but specific personal qualities - an ability for organizing and planning, diplomatic skills, discretion - as well as a perfect knowledge of at least English and basic computer skills are necessary.

Sales departments are now taking a lot of the decisions made in companies

Sosa underscores that one recent development is the way vocational education graduates are enjoying a newfound respect in the job market "because of the good, practical training they get, which makes it easy for them to make a smooth transition into a company." In the last five years, the student body at post-secondary vocational schools has grown by about 30 percent to 278,000.

Besides the aforementioned highly qualified professionals such as engineers or SAP consultants, special attention should also be given to sales managers because of the changes that their profession has undergone in recent years.

"Right now, everything has to go through them," says Sosa. "Besides the decisions that might be made by the head of human resources or other company executives, right now the sales department is handling a lot of processes, a lot of the decisions that are made in companies, especially large ones. The reason? Their evaluation is completely objective, it is based on a cost calculation."

Within sales departments, there is an increasingly important position known as technical salesperson with an international profile. These individuals must not just have job-related skills, but also a broad knowledge of the technical and business aspects of the industry, both at the domestic and international level. The relevance of their technical knowledge is now considered so important that companies are hiring engineers, economists, business administration graduates and pharmacists as technical salespeople. Higher education and language skills are always a plus, all the experts agree.

In Spain, some 96 percent of company personal secretaries are women

"Increasingly, companies appreciate engineers who can supervise the entire commercial process," says Pablo Vázquez Vega, an economist and president of Ineco, a transport engineering firm. "In general, I have the feeling that there are no professions or sectors that are doing better off during the crisis or which have a better future ahead of them; rather, there is some space in every sector and in every profession. The key lies in each person finding their own differentiating factor, the added value that they can bring to the company. Lawyers will still be needed, but perhaps with other skills in languages, management, international law."

Be that as it may, if one does the math there are definitely sectors that are doing better off than others. According to the Adecco report, the best-paid jobs among the careers in greatest demand are for international financial directors, who make a gross fixed salary of 70,000 to 80,000 euros a year, and that is not counting an increasingly frequent variable component that is typically around 10 percent of the gross annual salary. A SAP consultant is in a similar wage range, although in this case it depends on their specialty. For instance, the consultant who manages the treasury department's computer applications can make a gross 60,000 to 65,000 euros a year, according to the same study.

As for the best-paid engineers, the report highlights production and product engineers, who make a gross 50,000 to 70,000 euros a year. Their job is to analyze the production processes from the creative phase through planning, design and obtaining the final product.

Among doctors, radiologists are in great demand because they are in short supply in the Spanish job market. Depending on where they work, whether a gynecologist's office or a large hospital, and whether they are in the private or public sector, radiologists can take home between 60,000 and 120,000 euros a year.

Job prospects in the health sector are good because of population ageing

As for language skills, English is the king of the castle. After English, and considering we are talking about Spanish workers, nobody dares point to a second language as being essential, although any extra knowledge is a plus and can help a person build a career profile that is good for certain jobs. German, French and Italian make it easier to get selected for jobs in multinationals headquartered in European countries, but experts note it is not a bad thing to speak languages from emerging countries, including Mandarin Chinese or Portuguese (with a view to Brazil).

Gayle Allard, a professor of economics at the IE Business School and an expert on job markets, has conducted a study on the careers with the highest employment rates in Spain in the last five years, and she lists the 10 main occupations that together represent 29 percent of all jobs in the country, based on 2011 figures from the National Statistics Institute. These are: salespeople at shops and department stores (4.6 percent of all jobs in Spain), office and hotel cleaners (3.7 percent), clerical workers who work with the public (3.6 percent) and those who do not (3 percent), waiters (2.8 percent), house cleaners (2.5 percent), administrative assistants (2.5 percent), sales agents and sales representatives (2.2 percent), truck drivers (1.9 percent) and high-school teachers (1.9 percent).

Allard also underscores the rising demand for administrative employees who work with the public, but most especially for nurses and daycare workers. Jobs in this sector represent 1.8 percent of the total and grew 22.3 percent between 2006 and 2011. "The health sector in the broad sense and in the caregiving sense has one of the most promising futures ahead: because of population ageing, demand for them is growing," she says.

This expert has a hopeful vision about the labor market: "The transformation is beginning this year; companies are already seeking competitive advantages and ways to reduce costs. In 2012, behind all the bad news and all the adjustments being made by companies, there is also a silent transformation going on that's going to be very important."

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